NAMITA GUPTA SHARES A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF CELEBRATING LOI KRATHONG IN AYUTTHAYA, THE TRADITIONAL WAY.
There’s sheer revelry in the air. The entire market flanking the rivers, lakes and canals is lit up with small shops selling Krathongs or baskets as we know it, decorated with three incense sticks, a candle along with flowers and a coin. We are in Ayutthaya, 85 kms away from Bangkok to celebrate Loi (also written as Loy) Krathong, one of Kingdom’s oldest and most colourful traditions. It is celebrated annually across six unique destinations – Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, Tak, Samut Songkhram and Roi Et in the Kingdom of Thailand. ‘Loi’ means afloat and ‘Krathong’ refers to any form of a container. The base of the krathongs are bio-degradable and made out of banana stem and rice crackers, and once they’re afloat in water, it makes for a great meal for the fish to feed on.
It is a full moon evening of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar and the moonlight casts its magical reflection on the waters. We get rid of our jeans and tees and slip into a traditional Thai costume, called Chut Thai – a full length wrap around skirt held with the help of an ornate and decorative golden and stone studded belt and a sash cloth that is wrapped around the bust with one end left loose on the right shoulder like a saree pallu. It is similar to our Indian saree, yet quite unique. The sabai or a cloth wrapped around the top makes for the blouse. A stunning long traditional neckpiece and ear rings complete the look. Men wear a dhoti kind of pant and a closed Raj pattern jacket. All this finery comes in satin silk and must we add that we are already looking and feeling like Thai royalty. These Thai rental costumes lifted our spirits, as we head to the river nearby to make our offerings to the water spirits.
Trying our luck to master a few pleasantaries in Thai language, we make our way to the Phasak riverside. There are quite a few spots across Ayutthaya, where you can float your krathongs. Four popular ones include – under the Pridi-Thamrong Bridge, Chedi Si Suriyothai in front of Chankrasem Palace, Pomphet, and the Monument of King Naresuan the Great at theThung Phu Khao Thong area. Every single shop owner has outpassed the other in creating extremely creative, exquisite and eye-catchy krathongs, making it a tough decision to buy just one. We pin down on one for each of us and head to a smaller and peaceful river bank to float our krathongs. But not before bowing down down to the river to pay respect and seek forgiveness from the goddess of water for any misdeeds against her and making a quick wish.
We move to the Tung Phu Khao Thong river next, where the festival is being celebrated on an extensive scale. Various contests, music and dance performances and workshops are held here. The streets leading up to the river are lined with stores selling local Thai food and colourful sweets, that are not just tantalising to the palate, but also a feast to the eyes. One of the reasons for celebration is the culmination of the main rice harvest season, when it’s time to thank the Water Goddess for a year’s worth of her abundant supply, and seeking apology for polluting the waters. In 2020, Loi Krathong festival may fall on Sunday, November 1 (the date varies every year) and tourists from across the world, start planning in advance as it is the best time to visit Thailand, when the weather is pleasant and its lush green everywhere. It is mystical and magical to see the water beds lit up with thousands of beautiful krathongs.
Ayutthaya the ancient royal capital is rich in history and culture and boasts of many alluring palaces and wats. Bang Pa-In Palace: The Royal Palace at Bang Pa-In dates back to the 17th century and was revived by King Rama IV of the Chakridynasty, who had a temporary residence on the outer island of the monastery. Called Wat Nimet Thammaprawat, it was built by his son King Rama V. As we stroll around this palatial palace with a large water body around it, we enjoy the serene environment and are transported in time on how the place must have been in those days. Today the palace is used occasionally by Their Majesties (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit as a residence and for holding receptions and banquets.
Art of the Kingdom Museum: The museum is home to the kingdom’s most unique and jaw-dropping art collection. Created with select ornaments and woven by trained artists from Queen Sirikit Institute over years, this museum’s pride lies in the richness that art in Thailand resonates. The treasures here range from wall-to-wall embroidery, enamel carvings, wood carvings, beetle wing decorations, yan lipao basketry and Thai sculptures carved and decorated with gold, silverware, diamonds and other precious metals. The intricate gold carvings with diamonds and other precious stones are captivating to the say the least and left us all in awe, as we took enough time to marvel at the beauty of each of the pieces on display.
Ayutthaya Historical Park: We were lucky to walk around Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just before sunset and capture the beauty of the ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Province in all its glory. Ayutthaya was founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1351 and was later captured by the Burmese in 1569 and ever since, the city lost most of its precious artistic objects. It was the capital of the country until the Burmese Army plundered it in 1767. In 1969 the Fine Arts Department began renovations of the ruins, which became more serious after it was declared a historical park in 1976. Wat Mahathat, “the temple of the Great Relic” inside the historical park, was one of the most important temples in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. The large monastery features a huge central prang, a very large principal viharn or a sermon hall, besides many subsidiary chedis. One of the temple’s most instagrammable spots is the head of a stone Buddha entwined in the roots of a tree. You can also visit Wat Phra Si Sanphet or the temple of the Buddha Si Sanphet. Being part of the Royal Palace complex, the very large monastery with dozens of structures was used only by Ayutthaya kings.
Thai Art Workshop (Pla ta pian): Pla ta pian is a local art form practiced since many generations reflecting the artfulness of Thai folk wisdom. We visited a family that is still creating this craft with dried palm leaves or fan palm fronds, which are twisted in a unique manner and painted to make colourful fish hangings or bird hangings. This is a dying art and now there are only five families from Ayutthaya, the home of this folk craft, creating these handicrafts.
Ayutthaya Floating Market: Ayothaya Floating Market is a cultural and shopping destination in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. It is known for its traditional Thai wooden houses lined along waterways. Lay your hands on some great buys like Thai sweets, souvenir t-shirts, home decor, traditional Thai toys and handicrafts, Thai costumes and more. We also take a short boat ride around the market.
Thai Dessert Making (Foi Thong and Roti Sai Mai): Take your time to explore around the streets of Ayutthaya for some of the sweetest and brightest Thai desserts. Keep it local as you get your fix on Foi Thong, originally a Portuguese dish, and now one of the popular desserts in the Land of Smiles. You can also try your hand at creating this dessert from duck and chicken eggs, drawn into thin strands and dipped in sugar syrup. Roti sai mai or Ayutthaya’s cotton candy is a Southeast Asian dessert that is made of floss or cotton candy, wrapped in a roti. Both these desserts are soft, sweet and melt in the mouth.
Khao Yai: Ayutthaya might be one of the preferred destinations for Thai royals, but its anything but uptight. After you’ve had your fill of the historical sites, you can unwind at places like Khao Yai (122 kms from Bangkok and 82 kms from Ayutthaya), that has wineries and other such relaxing hotspots. PB Valley Khao Yai Winery Tour is the birth place of the Khao Yai Wine Region and one of the finest wineries in Thailand. We loved the wine tasting tour in the midst of the mountains on the edge of Khao Yai National Park. Another place worth a visit for a couple of hours is Primo Piazza, a Tuscan village-themed attraction where you can experience the alpaca and llama petting and feeding. There are many Insta worthy spots here that will entice even the not-so-photo-friendly types to give in. On your drive back to your hotel make a quick pitstop at Pete Maze, a maze set up in midst of Khao Yai National Park. If you want to get a feel of the local villages then Khao Yai Farm Village will make an ideal fun getaway for you and your family. Alongside feeding the alpacas and sheep, we also indulged in soap making and candle making workshops and a farm visit to collect fresh vegetables. Also try the Ayutthaya Boat and Travel cruise that gives you a view of the famous historical sites atop a cruise boat. Traditional Thai dinner is also served on the cruise.
For a serene getaway within easy reach of the big city, we can’t think of a better way to experience nature the D2 way at dusitD2 khao yai. We loved our stay at Khao Yai, Thai for big mountain, which is home to the dusitD2 khao yai, Dusit’s latest hotel in Thailand. A chic mountain escape only a two hour’s drive from Bangkok, the dusitD2 khao yai’s luxurious suites offer picturesque views over the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khao Yai National Park.
Beautiful Bangkok: One can’t leave Thailand without visiting The Grand Palace in Bangkok. A landmark, this dazzling palace is a must-visit. Built in 1782, it was the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government for 150 years. We were in awe of architectural marvel and spent half a day admiring its intricate detail. The palace that was once a home for Thai war ministry, state departments, and the mint is today, the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. Visit Wat Pho (The Temple of the reclining Buddha), which is right behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This largest temple complex is known for its giant reclining Buddha that is 46 metres long and covered in gold leaf.
After a long day of visiting palaces and wats, we were welcomed at the plush and comfortable Pullman Bangkok King Power. The award winning hotel has trendsetting bars and restaurants and also Bangkok’s largest infinity pool. The hotel has easy access to the Victory Monument BTS Skytrain Station and the Airport Rail Link. Thailand is synonymous with massages. We were pampered to the fullest with a Traditional Thai Massage at Health Land Spa, followed by a hearty Indian dinner at the best Indian restaurant in Bangkok – Rang Mahal. The massage was a perfect way to end our Thai sojourn.